Technology finds a way to deal with the mortgage

For many people, acquiring a mortgage is a humiliating process. Help may finally be at hand.

mortgageThe contemporary mortgage crisis is the worst factor of living in a world where land is at a premium and the banks are only interested in mortgaging to those who fit into its primitive algorithm of who is reliable.

In the West before the recession of 2008, such crises were evanescent, banks were lending to anybody who could (and in many cases couldn’t) afford it and the global economy seemed as safe as buying property.

Then it changed forever. As interest rates plummeted, those who were smart enough to be on tracker mortgages saw their monthly payment similarly plummet, but for others the story was a nightmare.

In certain parts of the UK, not least inner-city apartments, people fell into negative equity, revisiting the terrible times of the late 1980s when interest rates were more than 20%.

Over the intervening eight years, however, the housing market in the UK didn’t crash and everything seemed good in the mortgage garden. However, the patina could not cover the rust within; the problem wasn’t with house prices or even mortgage prices, it was with the mortgages themselves.

Banks are now terrified to lend to anybody who lives differently or take risks. Imagine a world of entrepreneurs where venture capitalists refused to lend them money. A ridiculous situation, but that’s the current state of play with mortgages.

It seems incongruous in a world where technology has changed everything since the 2008 crisis that technology hadn’t improved the mortgage process.

At that time platforms such as Airbnb, Uber, JustEat and others hardly existed, but they all served a purpose – they updated legacy systems what were defunct. Where was that magnificent product that banks would use or be disrupted by?

Finally, that process may have been streamlined and it is one that has bypassed the banks. While the likes of Zoopla have also become platforms to search for and price property, its deal last week with UK online mortgage broker Trussle may mark a watershed in how people are judged when applying for money to make a home with.

Following a strategic partnership and investment round earlier this year, Zoopla and Trussle have joined forces to launch a digital service that transforms the finding and financing of a home into one seamless consumer ‘journey’.

This so-called ‘PropTech’ partnership and state-of-the-art algorithm allows homebuyers to search for a property and find out in less than 60 seconds if they qualify to borrow the amount they need for their property of choice.

No time-wasting meetings with bank managers, no modern-day humiliating cap-in-hand Means Tests, an online experience based on people’s real profiles and abilities, not the outdated ones used by banks.

If mortgage-searchers qualify, they will receive a ‘Mortgage in Principle’ in less than five minutes and go on to secure that mortgage within 24 hours.

This affordability data is then also used to drive future searches, presenting newbuyers with other affordable properties in desirable postcodes.

The new service is made possible by Trussle’s proprietary technology. an algorithm that compares more 90 lenders in real time to give potential homebuyers the best value mortgage on the open market, faster than any other broker, bank or building society.

“Innovation in the PropTech sector is accelerating fast, and this partnership with Zoopla will transform the way people buy a home. Whether booking a holiday or buying a car, people are increasingly expecting to use a single platform to make the experience as streamlined as possible.

“We think we’ve finally solve the frustrations of homebuyers across the UK to make the process of buying a home quick, clear and straightforward,” said Ishaan Malhi, Founder and CEO, Trussle.

Established in December 2015 as the UK’s first online mortgage broker, Trussle has been backed by some of Europe’s leading technology investors including LocalGlobe, Ed Wray (founder of Betfair) Ian Hogarth (founder of Songkick), and Seedcamp.

Recent research by the company found that the average homeowner is losing out on saving £2,844 a year by not switching their mortgage at the end of a fixed period. Until they do, banks will continue to make £57 million a day, which totals £22 billion a year.

As with most products of this kind, the success of Trussle will be determined by user acquisition and retention, one that startups often have to throw resources at. However, with the relationship with Zoopla, they go straight to an already engaged audience.

The wait for a modern mortgage product defined by the latest technology, unlike that held by complacent banks, has been a long one. Hopefully, Trussle will disrupt the market to such an extent that bad mortgage business will be over for good.

US road trip diary: Day Two – At the (flooded) crossroads

crossroadsAfter last night’s shenanigans with the Old Bill, today was going to be more Walt Whitman than Dean Moriarty/Neal Cassady, so I went to search for nature, not danger.

Back through Arkansas, no choice, last night’s life-changer, so onwards to Hot Springs to, well (boom-boom), jump in a hot spring.

Different, boring, a town built by the Mafia in the 1920s, all glitz and bling and natural hot water. The Boston Red Sox used to train there, gone to seed, but the only US national park that runs through a town, and the smallest one in America.

Disappointed, Spring Break, town full, got back on the road to Memphis, decided to change plans and go to Clarksville, Mississippi, the place where Bessie Smith died in 1927, went the very scenic route, crossed the mighty, engorged Mississippi river (never seen it before) and headed for the alleged home of the Blues, where Robert Johnson sold his soul to the devil for music at the crossroads, only to die aged 19.

A town called Clarksville, flooded not by the Mississippi expanded, but the worst rain-storm in 140 years.

Arrived, expected schmaltz, but found glory, a town of benign, crazy people like that book about Savannah, Midnight in the House of Good and Evil or something like that.

Expected tourist New Orleans, but went to a renovated open air cinema, the Roxy where Ike Turner was a cashier and Sam Cooke played between movies. Unbelievable, if in Shoreditch, a $10 million project. Twelve people at the bar.


Outside stage, at the back of the juke joint (American for shebeen), heard stories about Clarksville and Sam Cooke who was born there, asked where I could buy cigartettes, told the local grocery had closed a week before because the owner had been shot.

Then went to Red’s, a blues bar where Robert Plant and Keith Richard came, but never played. There were 30 people there and the band was amazing.

Clarksville is one of the fifth poorest boroughs in America, all 300 kids (95% black) failed the national algebra test, automation destroyed industry in 1970s, but people are coming back, population up to 20,000 now, up from 18,000 two years ago.

Like Hackney before Hackney was even Hackney, the King of Foreclosures, a three-bedroom mansion downtown costs $60,000. It was one of the best nights of my music life, and I was almost crying with happiness watching proper legacy, fucked-up blues.

I’m not bothering with New Orleans on this trip now, I would only compare it with the magic of Clarksville, ripe for hipsters, perfect for students of the blues.

Might pop into Graceland tomorrow on the way to rest up for some time writing in the Smoky Mountains in Tennesse, but today was as much Moriarty/Cassady as it was Whitman, but it also had Bessie Smith, Robert Johnson, Sam Cooke and the delta Blues I thought were now homogenised. It was a truly magical place, Clarksville, I implore you to go there.

I’m so privileged to have been there at this time, it will soar from here, mark my motherfucking, happy, happy, happy words.

US road trip diary: Day One – the Texan cops

I originally wrote this trip up on Facebook on the road in the spring of this year. Others were asking about it, so I’m republishing here every day this week.


Before I hit the road, my new best friend is Dave Silverman (pictured left), really top bloke and non-show off genius, worked with Jobs, the director of Monsters Inc, The Simpsons Movie and countless episodes including most of the Halloween ones.

He had the grace, after I asked for a photo for my son last night, to ask me whether I’d like him to draw my son something. I naturally came in my pants, and he drew a picture of Krusty The Clown and a message for my boy, wonderful to watch, took about 30 seconds. Bloody brilliant.

Did the music session, mentioned the Clash three times, then went to look for America. Came off the freeway going north to Dallas, got lost near Tyler, but accidentally found beautifully deserted Palestine Lake, had a dip, no fighting there between Semites, just big catfish.

Back on the road, decided to add Arkansas and Oklahoma to the list of states visited, motel it there and then tomorrow to meet a friend of a friend who lives near the CROSSROADS in Mississippi where Robert Johnson allegedly sold his soul to the devil to become the amazing blues guitarist he became.

There’s big flooding there (currently – sorry), but will find out tomorrow, we’re going out to a proper local blues bar tomorrow night in Clarksdale, Mississippi.

So, I’m at a motel called The End Of The Trail in Broken Bow, Oklahoma, it surprisingly has the internet; proper dump for truckers. However, I am still shaking as I drink this beer after events an hour ago (11pm).


Pulled over by the Police. Fuck. Got out, told I was doing 67mph in a 40mph limit. Then told that I was wobbling when I walked, looks like you’ve been drinking, sir. No I said, nothing all. (Not since 1am, but still worried it might be in the system).

Shone torch in my eyes, said they were pinned (might have been reasons for that as well), was I on any medication? No, just tired after driving 400 miles.

He told me to sit back in the car. Five minutes, later two cops come over, having trouble believing my story that my eyes are pinned because I’m tired and I was only going to Oklahoma to add a state to my list.

But the Engish accent was working and I stlll had my SXSW badge around my neck and that helped. Finally got let off, not even a caution, shook hands and lost another one of the dwindling lives.

And during it all, Badlands by Bruce Sprinsteen was playing on local radio in the car. So, I’m wearing the SXSW badge until I leave on Monday.

Onwards….but nowhere near Arkansas.

PayPal equality for Israeli settlers, but not Palestinian entrepreneurs

The Palestinian IT sector and more than 40 Palestinian businesses have signed an open letter to PayPal CEO Dan Schulman, asking him to extend PayPal’s services to Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza.

paypalWithout access to PayPal, Palestinian entrepreneurs, non-profits and others face routine difficulties in receiving payments for business and charitable purposes.

PayPal’s absence is problematic for the Palestinian economy overall because IT is one of the only sectors with the potential to grow under status quo conditions of the Israeli occupation. Given that IT products do not have to cross physical borders, they are less impacted by Israel’s severe restrictions on the movement of Palestinian goods and people.

In contrast to Palestinians, Israeli settlers living illegally (per international law and official U.S. policy) in the West Bank are fully integrated into the Israeli financial system and enjoy access to all of PayPal’s services.

In their letter, Palestinian entrepreneurs remind Schulman of his courageous stand in North Carolina and argue that as part of PayPal’s commitment to equality, it must ensure that Palestinians and Israelis living among one another have equal access to its services regardless of religion or ethnicity.

Zahi Khouri, CEO of Palestine’s National Beverage Company and early-stage startup investor through the Ibtikar Fund, said, “All we want is equal access for our talented young people to bring their innovative products and ideas to the world. By extending service to Palestine, PayPal has the opportunity to make a real contribution to alleviating the disastrous unemployment rates in Palestine which are a major source of instability.”

Text of letter to PayPal CEO Dan Schulman:

Dear Mr. Schulman,

We are writing to urge you to extend PayPal’s services to Palestinians living in the West Bank and Gaza thereby removing a major limitation on the Palestinian technology sector, one of the only bright spots in the overall economy. More importantly, extending PayPal services would resolve the current discriminatory situation whereby PayPal’s payment portal can be accessed freely by Israeli settlers living illegally (per international humanitarian law) in the West Bank while it remains unavailable to the occupied Palestinian population.

PayPal’s absence is a major obstacle to the growth of Palestine’s tech sector and the overall economy. While other payment portals are available, there is no replacement for the trust and familiarity that PayPal inspires among potential users, particularly those that are unfamiliar with Palestine-based companies. Without access to PayPal, Palestinian entrepreneurs, nonprofits, and others face routine difficulties in receiving payments for business and charitable purposes.

Moreover, PayPal’s absence is problematic for the overall Palestinian economy as tech is one of the only sectors with the potential to grow under status quo conditions of the Israeli occupation which severely restricts the internal and cross-border movement of goods and people. Indeed, by entering the Palestinian market, PayPal has the opportunity to make a significant contribution toward alleviating the destabilizing unemployment rates of over 25 percent in the West Bank and 40 percent in Gaza.

We have been told that PayPal is concerned about the compliance investments required to enter the Palestinian market. We believe such costs have been greatly overestimated. The U.S. Treasury Department has spent a great deal of time working with the Palestine Monetary Authority to strengthen safeguards against abuse. PayPal currently operates in over 203 countries including places with major problems of corruption and terrorism like Somalia and Yemen. We are confident that Palestine will prove a much easier place to profitably do business than these and other markets that PayPal has already entered.

In addition to business reasons, there are also ethical reasons for PayPal to enter the Palestinian market. PayPal’s decision to launch its service in Israel for Israeli bank customers means that it inadvertently made its services freely available to Jewish settlers living illegally in the occupied West Bank. Palestinians living in close proximity to those settlers do not, however, have access as PayPal doesn’t work with Palestinian banks and Palestinians are unable to establish Israeli bank accounts.

We believe a company such as PayPal, whose actions in North Carolina reaffirmed its commitment to equal rights, would agree that people living in the same neighborhood ought to have equal rights and access to its services regardless of religion or ethnicity.

We understand that entering a new market can be complex and would be more than happy to work with you, the Palestinian Monetary Authority, and any other necessary officials to pave the way for PayPal’s entry to the Palestinian market.

We very much look forward to hearing from you and working with you to ensure that Palestinian entrepreneurs, nonprofits, and others are free to participate in global commerce.

Index On Censorship magazine 250 issues later

Truth is in danger as reporters are threatened all over world and news is suppressed, argues the editor of Index on Censorship as it publishes its 250th issue.

censorshipWhere do we go for real news? Which channels can we trust? Does the brand of the news organisation matter any more? Where are the great, long-form writers? To whom do we fucking turn?

It’s not easy to work out what’s happening around the world. TV stations are self-focused on national events and home politics. Wars are chronicled by compromised imbeds, countries have policies of attacking journalists, not protecting them, and there are less windows than ever where one can view tumultuous and revolutionary events.

They still exist though. PBS in the US, the World Service, the Quartz daily newsletter, the ongoing work of brave men such as John Pilger and the Index on Censorship quartely magazine.

The current issue of the magazine examines how journalists have become high-profile targets… and is written by some of the world’s finest journalists and writers such as local reporters in Syria and Eritrea. It describes itself as ‘the only global free expression magazine’. They are probably right.

Other highlights include:

* Lindsey Hilsum asks if journalists should still cover war zones
* Stephen Grey looks at protecting sources amid mass surveillance.
* Kaya Genç interviews Turkey’s threatened investigative journalists
* Steven Borowiec lifts the lid on Japan’s press clubs
* Fred Searle on young UK journalists who fear speaking out against ‘churnalism’ in case they lose their jobs

“In many countries around the world, journalists have lost their status as observers and now come under direct attack. In the not-too-distant past journalists would be on front lines, able to report on what was happening, without being directly targeted,” Index on Censorship editor Rachael Jolley writes in the magazine.

The first issue of Index on Censorship magazine appeared in 1972. Since then, great writers such as Nadine Gordimer, Mario Vargas Llosa, Amartya Sen, Samuel Beckett, as well as Arthur Miller and Harold Pinter have written for the magazine. The magazine continues to attract great writers, passionate arguments, and exposes stories of censorship and violence.

Each quarterly magazine is filled with reports, analysis, photography and creative writing from around the world. Index on Censorship magazine is published four times a year by Sage, and is available for print subscription, online and in the Apple and Google Play stores.